The last time I saw Future, at the end of 2013, he was on an ill-fated voyage to the center of the pop music universe. Since then, he’s retreated into a black hole and pulled an army of fans along with him. The career reboot that followed 2014’s semi-schizophrenic Honest returned Future to the hard-hitting street rap of his roots but dirtier, meaner, and relentlessly bleak. Gone was the Auto-Tune romantic and even the firestarter behind steel beam crushers like “Sh!t” and “Same Damn Time.” In his stead emerged a tragic villain digging deeper and deeper into codeine blues.
A surprising number of fans followed him into that groove, and those who swore allegiance to rap’s most quietly charismatic bad guy came to be known as the #FutureHive. On Wednesday night, several hundred of them crowded into Austin’s Copper Tank Events Center to see Future headline YouTube’s SXSW party. He and his trusty sidekick DJ Esco proceeded to flex their ridiculously loaded discography, raining down fragments of dozens upon dozens of hits — and, notably, not much from his recent EVOL — on a relatively tiny, jam-packed room dotted by the glow of joints and smartphones. As a performance, it was solid, but as a party, it slayed.
After kicking things off with DS2 opener “Thought It Was A Drought,” Future and Esco flashed back to that pre-Monster era and remained there for a while, barreling through a medley of Future’s early hits that reminded me just how long he’s been ruling rap radio and why his initial career trajectory was so exhilarating in the first place. “Move That Dope,” “Karate Chop,” “Racks,” “Tony Montana,” “Magic,” “Same Damn Time,” “Bugatti,” “Sh!t” — one after another Esco cued them up and Future banged them out, the nostalgia tour interrupted only temporarily by the recent Ty Dolla $ign collab “Blasé.”
During this portion of the show, Future was playing the role of the MC in the master-of-ceremonies sense, a host presiding over a party. He leaned heavily on pre-recorded vocals, opting instead to fling ad-libs and rev up the audience. Had the show continued like that until the end, it would have been fun but fairly disappointing as a concert. It’s cool to be 20 feet from Future, but I can build my own greatest hits playlist and turn up in the privacy of my home. Thankfully, having dispensed with the oldies, he fully engaged with the material and started to rap his ass off. He even rapped Drake’s parts on their various collaborative tracks.
Speaking of which: There was a moment of breathless anticipation when Future launched into “Where Ya At,” all of us wondering whether Drake would suddenly materialize to perform some hits alongside his close collaborator. That didn’t happen, but it didn’t matter. Future is his own center of gravity, and as he tore through assorted mixtape bangers and DS2 favorites — peaking with world-beating jams “Jumpman,” “Fuck Up Some Commas,” and “March Madness” — he pulled the rest of us into his orbit.